March 9th, 1831 – The French Foreign Legion

Today-In-History

The French Foreign Legion is a military service branch of the French Army established on March 9th, 1831, by King Louis Philippe to support his war in Algeria. The Legion is unique because it was created for foreign nationals willing to serve in the French Armed Forces.

French Foreign Legion 1831 680

The Foreign Legion was primarily used to protect and expand the French colonial empire during the 19th century. The Foreign Legion was initially stationed only in Algeria, where it took part in the pacification and development of the colony. Subsequently the French Foreign Legion (FFL) was deployed in a number of conflicts, including the First Carlist War in 1835, the Crimean War in 1854, the Second Italian War of Independence in 1859, the French intervention in Mexico in 1863, the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, the Tonkin Campaign and Sino–French War in 1883, supporting growth of the French colonial empire in Sub-Saharan Africa and pacifying Algeria, the Second Franco-Dahomean War in 1892, the Second Madagascar expedition in 1895, and the Mandingo Wars in 1894.

In World War I, the Foreign Legion fought in many critical battles on the Western Front. It played a smaller role in World War II than in World War I, though having a part in the Norwegian, Syrian and North African campaigns. During the First Indochina War (1946–54), the Foreign Legion saw its numbers swell. The FFL lost a large number of men in the catastrophic Battle of Dien Bien Phu. During the Algerian War of Independence (1954–62), the Foreign Legion came close to being disbanded after some officers, men, and the highly decorated 1st Foreign Parachute Regiment (1REP) took part in the Generals’ putsch. Notable operations during this period included the Suez Crisis, the Battle of Algiers and various offensives launched by General Maurice Challe including Operations Oranie and Jumelles.

beau geste 1

The popular image of the French Foreign Legion from the film “Beau Geste.”

Commanded by French officers, it is also open to French citizens, who amounted to 24% of the recruits in 2007. The Foreign Legion is today known as a unit whose training focuses not only on traditional military skills but also on its strong esprit de corps. As its men come from different countries with different cultures, this is a way to strengthen them enough to work as a team. Although it is part of the French Military, it is the only unit of the military that does not swear allegiance to France, but to the Foreign Legion itself. Consequently, training is often described as not only physically challenging, but also very stressful psychologically. A soldier who becomes injured during a battle for France can immediately apply for French citizenship under a provision known as “Français par le sang versé” (“French by spilled blood”). As of 2008, members come from 140 countries.

Since 1831, the Legion has suffered the loss of nearly 40,000 of its own men serving the ranks and France: Loyada, Tchad, Zaïre, Lebanon, Central Africa, Gabon, Kuwait, Rwanda, Djibouti, Ex-Yugoslavia, Somalia, Republic of Congo, Ivory Coast, Afghanistan, Mali, Sahel and others.

“Today in History” on The Pandora Society dot com is primarily focused on Victorian and Edwardian history and does not always have a direct connection to Steampunk, Dieselpunk, or whatever punk; in fact it rarely does, but it is our hope that in sharing these historical events they might serve as some inspiration to the writers in our community to create potential alternative history stories which we look forward to reading 🙂


 

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